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Chefs ready minds for meals

Education: Two Santa Clarita residents open business that offers cooking classes

Posted: February 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Kitchen Wizards owners and Le Cordon Bleu Chefs, Herve Guillard, right, and Judy Gilbert lead a class in the fine art of cuisine and wine pairing at their location in Valencia.

 


Opening a new business is not something most people do on a whim. But chefs Judy Gilbert and Herve Guillard have wanted to open a cooking-class business for so long that Kitchen Wizards opened within three months of the decision to finally go for it.

“We said, ‘You know what would be great to do?’ and in a month, we were moving into this place,” Gilbert said.

Cooking classes have become more popular in recent years, particularly as the popularity of the Food Network and other cooking TV has increased, Guillard said. Additionally, more families are interested in cooking at home to save money in the current economy.

According to a February Supermarket News report, 78 percent of families eat together at home at least five times a week, but 40 percent said they have a tough time making good, healthful meals. Many of these people turn to cooking classes.

“It can be a luxury, but it’s practical also,” Gilbert said.

Following a dream

Gilbert and Guillard, Santa Clarita residents, met as teachers at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. That teaching gig was a step in the right direction for the longtime chefs who also wanted to teach — Guillard, a French native who moved to California in 1995 to begin catering and cooking privately, and Gilbert, a professional cook who has worked in the Los Angeles area for 30 years.

But the pair ultimately wanted to create a more intimate learning experience — not for aspiring cooks, but for spouses, friends and family that wanted to learn and have fun, to create meals they could duplicate back at home.

“There just didn’t seem to be anything out here like what we were thinking,” Gilbert said. “At other places, you really don’t get your hands on the food.”

So, in the fall of 2011, Gilbert and Guillard realized they had enough funds between the two of them to finance a cooking-class business in Santa Clarita and by October were renovating space off Cinema Drive that was previously a Korean barbecue restaurant that already had perfect counters and space to be turned into a teaching kitchen, Gilbert said.

The space now consists of a demonstration space and three small tables for the 10-12 attendees in each participation class to enjoy the meal they make, with all furniture and decorations in blues, yellows and reds, matching the walls Gilbert’s husband and son helped to paint.

“We wanted it to feel almost like they’re coming into our house, and we’re having a dinner party,” Gilbert said. “We’re just hanging out in a big kitchen.”

Open for business

Kitchen Wizards opened in January, with daily classes running Tuesday through Saturday. Gilbert and Guillard planned out the first two months of classes by attending other cooking classes and deciding what worked, what didn’t, and what they would want to learn about or cook in a class.

The demonstration classes can hold up to 24 people, who watch how the food is made, then eat it. The participation classes allow for up to 10 people to prepare the meals themselves.

“The other classes wanted to do so much,” Guillard said. “We’d rather do fewer recipes, but everyone can see what they’re doing.”

So far, classes have been filling up with spouses and friends, mostly in their late 20s and coming in pairs, they said. And a handful of classes have been solidly booked by a group of 10 friends or family members that wanted to take a class together or for an occasion.

Right now the cooking classes are a part-time venture for both Guillard, who still teaches at Le Cordon Bleu, and Gilbert, who works at the Healthfull Foods Café.

The Kitchen Wizards schedule their classes about two months in advance, listing the basic theme of the night such as cocktails, brunch or Asian appetizers. The pair then plans the actual meals a few weeks in advance and purchases the ingredients the day before the class.

Future classes

The two say they are just taking the business one month at a time, using the feedback from students to determine the direction of future classes. In addition to the regular open classes, Kitchen Wizards hopes to book more private parties and plans to market itself as an option for a corporate or organization outing.

What many customers have appreciated is the cultural aspect of the classes, as they try to incorporate some discussion of the food’s roots and history. Guillard’s “Tour de France” classes have been especially popular, Gilbert said.

“There’s a big cultural component of food,” she said. “We leave a little bit of time to talk about the culture.”

Additionally, as chefs, Gilbert said, they have “a good network of guest chefs that we can tap into,” in order to vary the demonstrations and cooking styles.  In March, local chefs, like Ed DeSouza and Jessie Russo from Healthfull Foods Café will be leading classes on healthful cooking.

Ultimately, the pair is just glad the opportunity arose for them to start a cooking-class business — something Gilbert has wanted to do for decades, which she even told The Signal 23 years ago in a feature about her desserts at local French restaurant Gerard’s.

“We never know what life has in store for us,” she said in the 1988 article. “The Santa Clarita Valley may just be the spot for our dream.”

Kitchen Wizards is located at 23460 Cinema Drive in Valencia and can be reached by calling (661) 254-1234 or emailing info@kitchenwizards.net.

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